I believe that war is the most tragic of all human folly. Yet it is a recurring theme in the panoply, the pomp and the sagas of humanity’s struggles that have recorded and interpreted human behavior down through the ages. For thousands of years, the human race has shown an unrelenting fascination with war and an incredible ability to romanticize it.
For example, the 2006 cinematic sensation, 300, which is a retelling of the legendary 300 Spartans who fought to their deaths in the Battle of Thermopylae some 2,500 years ago, speaks to this. Rather than an historical account of a great battle and an analysis of its meaning in the larger context of war, the makers of the film seemed more intrigued with the killing potential of ancient edged weapons and with the glory of being killed by such dreadful instruments.
The romanticizing of war, if not the outright acceptance of it as a natural human condition, surely feeds the beast! I am appalled every time I think of that awful war between the American states, and I wince when I picture those finely dressed Washington ladies who rode out to rural Virginia in their shiny buggies, laden with food and wine for an afternoon picnic, to watch from the beautiful hillsides the first big clash between Union troops and soldiers of the Confederacy.
What followed was mayhem and bloody chaos as the Confederates quickly routed the Union soldiers and sent them, and their adoring picnickers, in considerable disarray back to the relative safety of Washington. What a shock it must have been when reality trumped romanticism on that fateful day!
When I greet each new day, I am confronted by a messy and unpopular war in Iraq. No amount of romanticism, no displays of patriotic fervor can break through the sadness that I feel when I wonder how many American youth died in Iraq yesterday. Who were they? I wonder also about Iraqi men, women and children who’ve died. Composers, poets, musicians, artists, screen writers and historians will do their best to romanticize the Iraq War, and that may provide some solace for the loved-ones of fallen warriors; however a growing sense of the waste of this particular war is more evident with each passing day!
I recognize that the ability to wage war is a tool for the protection of peoples and nations. I also recognize that many noble thoughts and actions are played out in war, and therein is our dilemma. How can we honor those who give life and limb in the service of our country, and how can we do it without romanticizing war in the process?
The DNA that seems to keep all humanity programmed to choose war when nations quarrel over competing interests can be challenged. While war has always been and always will be romanticized, the overriding reality is that war is bloody violence and death, tragic human folly. This I believe.
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